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St. Lawrence County Dairy Princess program reaches 50-year milestone

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The St. Lawrence County Dairy Princess program is celebrating its 50th year, showing the kind of staying power associated with the dairy industry.

The program may have been started to give farm girls a boost at a time when they were not even allowed to join Future Farmers of America, said Brooke E. Rastley, Spragueville, who will give up her crown at this year’s pageant June 6 at the Madrid Community Center.

“If the boys were running tractors, the girls needed something to do,” she said.

It has continued for many reasons, including what the program gives to those who participate, Ms. Rastley said. She remembered one girl from her court who initially held back at a children’s educational event at the Cooperative Extension Learning Farm on Route 68 in Canton.

“By the end of the program, she was out-talking me,” Ms. Rastley said. “It was unbelievable how much she developed her public speaking skills in the three hours we were there. Amazing. Parents can see that.”

The program is also social.

“I’ve met a lot of friends through the program,” Ms. Rastley said. “We get a lot of mother-daughter time because with the young girls a parent is supposed to be there.”

Ms. Rastley said she knew she wanted to be an advocate for the dairy industry as soon as she learned of the dairy princess program, just as she knows she wants to keep farming.

“It’s really the only thing I’ve wanted to do,” she said.

In her case, Ms. Rastley can also talk about organic farming. Her family farm is among those who ship to Horizon Organic.

“I’m proud of that because I’m pretty sure I’m the first organic princess,” she said. “I talk about organic dairy products when I’m at an event with organic products.”

A love for their industry and watching girls gain self-confidence keeps the program going, said LouAnne F. King, Madrid, co-chairwoman of the county Dairy Promotion Committee.

“It’s being passionate about cows and the farming life and sharing that with those who are more removed from it,” she said.

The dairy princess program is also a way for farmers to see how money deducted from their checks for dairy promotion is spent, Mrs. King said.

The princess and her court are chosen by a panel of judges after they give a speech on some aspect of dairy farming and answer an impromptu question. They are judged on speaking ability, poise and how well they will represent the dairy industry.

Contestants can be the daughter of a farmer or be sponsored by a farmer or agri-business.

During the year, they give speeches for anyone that asks, certainly farm groups and school children, sometimes at nursing homes and health fairs. They attend the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club Expo, the Gouverneur & St. Lawrence County Fair and parades.

In honor of its 50th anniversary, the dairy promotion committee has invited all past princesses to ride on floats during this year’s Dairy Princess Parade June 7 in Canton.

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